MEEKS: Words can hurt

May 22, 2013 

When you were a child did you ever say, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” I remember that we used to say that usually after someone had said something that had in fact hurt. Little did we know that words represent very powerful energy systems. They are rooted in the ideas, thoughts and understanding that we have about the way in which the world works, and when these ideas and thoughts present themselves as words it is important to pay attention to them.

Often, we speak without thinking and say what we don’t really mean. But whether we mean them or not, once spoken, the words cannot be taken back. It is too late to say, “I was joking.” Actually most of the time when something has been said that might have been better left unsaid, it is not a joke at all. Even the beautiful holy man, Miguel Ruiz, counsels us in his book “The Four Agreements” to watch our tongues. He says, “Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” Let’s think for a few minutes about what the world might be like if we followed this profound way of speaking. So much of what is said in a given day would not be spoken. There are thousands of messages that flow through our email systems that would go unsent because folks are likely to say things in this medium that would not be said in a face to face encounter.

Take the idea of not speaking against ourselves as one to ponder. How many times do we make disparaging remarks about ourselves such as, “how stupid of me,” “I am too fat, skinny, broke, sick” or some other remark of limitation? And the list can go on and on.

Self-criticism, which is used against ourselves, is not productive, and because the words we speak represent the attitude we have about ourselves and others, it is a good idea to pay attention to them.

Now let’s think about gossip for a bit. Most of us have to be intentional about not participating in gossip. A juicy story about someone’s misfortune seems to come and stand in front of us asking for an audience and most of the time it is easy to be obliging. But how does gossip really serve us and what is the effect of it upon those who are the subject of it? It is easy to never think about that part of the equation because of the few minutes of relief from our personal reality that comes to us while we are engaging in it.

Saying only what you mean would certainly change the tone of many interactions during the day for all of us. What if we tried to make sure that our words were true representatives of our thoughts and feelings instead of camouflage for them?

So much of the reason for workplace conflict is the lack of honest conversation. Words are being used to cover up genuine thoughts and feelings because the speaker is not courageous about looking within deeply enough to know what their true thoughts and feelings are or has looked that deeply and chooses not to speak. But the truth will be revealed because before too long there will be words followed by behaviors that will be a better use of the power of your words in the direction of truth and love. This is a way to transform the world. A new way to conduct business, politics, education, religion and all of our social interactions.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at

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